This map shows the relative temperature increases attributable to each country due to their emissions since 1750.
The scientific community around the world agrees: global warming is everyone’s problem. But which countries have contributed to it the most? A new study from Concordia University in Montreal reveals the prime culprits – and it’s not good news for Britain and the US.
The data looks at total carbon dioxide emissions and global average temperature increases from 1750 to 2005, taking into account fossil fuel combustion and land-use change, as well as methane, nitrous oxide and sulphate aerosol emissions.
The team, led by Associate Professor Damon Matthews at the department of Geography, Planning and Environment, measured the percentage of temperature change that could be attributed to individual countries. They found that, since 1750, the United States has been the largest single contributor to global warming, responsible for nearly 20 per cent of the rise in average temperature.
Second in the list was China, followed by Russia, Brazil and India in the top five. Germany came in sixth, with the United Kingdom ranked seventh overall for its contribution to global warming, accounting for roughly 4.4 percent of temperature change.
The picture changed dramatically when the team calculated the contributions to global warming on a per capita basis – looking at which countries had been most responsible for a rise in temperature relative to their population.
The figures show that the UK comes top of the list, responsible for an increase of 0.54 degrees celsius per billion people, narrowly ahead of the USA (0.51 degrees). Next in line were Canada, Russia, Germany and the Netherlands, with with Australia, Brazil, France and Venezuela rounding out the top ten.
The research states that ‘Global temperatures have increased by almost a degree since pre-industrial times, and it is clear that human greenhouse gas emissions have been the primary driving force behind this temperature increase.’
‘However, the sources of these emissions have and continue to vary dramatically between regions and individual countries, with countries in the developed world responsible for the vast majority of historical emissions.’
Different countries are responsible for different kinds of emissions, a fact reflected in the team’s breakdown of emissions by source.
The report found that the emissions analysed accounted for a global average temperature rise of nearly 1 degree celsius since the Industrial age, and of 0.7 degrees since 1906 – in line with previous findings that put the change at 0.74 degrees since 1906.
While the report focusses on the impact that developed countries have had on global warming, the team of scientists acknowledges that future temperature changes will depend on emerging economies adding to the current levels of emissions.
The report concludes: ‘ If we are to have a chance of staying below 2 °C while also addressing fundamentally important issues associated with international equity, it is imperative that developed countries do not allow their greenhouse gas emissions to continue increasing at historical rates.’